Happy Fat Tuesday! Today is that day of the year when I have my annual panicked moment. Okay, I’ll be honest, I have many panicked moments every day. I am highly disorganized which leads to a constant string of panicked moments. BUT this is the one day of the year where I panic about Lent.
Traditionally, Lent is the time when all good little Christians give up something. Unless you are Catholic. Those lucky people just have to go to fish frys on Fridays. Lent is also a time when Christians are supposed to be somber and reflective. We are supposed to think about the sacrifices that Jesus made for us, the horrible sinners. If you go to certain churches, this is not a whole lot different than a typical Sunday.
When I was younger, I started asking myself some serious questions. I started to really wonder where in the Bible Jesus demanded that I not eat candy for forty days. I started reading the Bible and listening very hard during those Lenten sermons, but I just couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t like my forty day sugar crash was going to somehow give me even the slightest understanding of Jesus’ temptation in the desert or hanging on the cross. The only thing I could find where Jesus asked us to do something to remember him was during communion. (Commune. Eat. Wouldn’t it be great if we celebrated Lent by eating dinner with friends every night?)
When I was in college, a theologian told me that Lent was actually a time of bettering ourselves. He said that perhaps, instead of giving up something, we should take on something that Jesus would have us do. Something like being more forgiving, or praying more, or feeding the poor on a regular basis. This seemed to make a lot more sense to me.
As I grew older, I used Lent as a time for self improvement. It turns out that forty days is the perfect amount of time to break a bad habit, or start a good one. There was one really big problem though. It turns out that I am just a little bit of an extremest.
If you know me very well, you have probably seen this. If you invite me over to dinner (please, invite me over for dinner. I love eating food that other people have cooked.) and ask me to bring dessert, I will do one of two things. I will either show up with each member of my family carrying a different homemade dessert, ranging from the simple chocolate chip cookie to a dark chocolate raspberry cheesecake, or I will show up with a half eaten box of Nilla Wafers. It’s more likely to be the first one, but it’s really a gamble on your part as to which extreme will show up.
This extreme behavior also shows up in my Lenten choices. Unfortunately, extreme behaviors are very difficult to maintain over a long period of time. Forty days is a long period of time. In the past, this has lead me to feel like a failure. God doesn’t want me to feel like a failure, so I’m trying to improve this.
I usually do a good job of starting small. I’ll think “I’m going to eat a fruit or veggie with every meal.” That is a good, simple, totally doable change. But then my brain takes control of this idea and goes to work. The next thing I know I’m spending the next four days preparing these elaborate raw vegan meals. No cooked food ever touches my lips. And then I collapse into a pile of raw vegan exhaustion because that is just not a change you can make all at once. I then retreat to the couch with a ten pound bag of peanut-butter M&Ms and a case of coca-cola. Extreme, remember?
One year I tried to do the Forty Bags in Forty Days challenge. If you’ve never heard of this, it’s a great idea to de-clutter and simplify your life. Every day you fill one bag (large or small) with stuff from your house that either needs to be thrown away or is not used and should be donated. You then dispose of the bag appropriately. As Americans this is not a difficult challenge to partake in. Unless you are me.
You see, I decided that forty bags was not enough for my family. No, I needed to do forty bags for each member of my family. We have way more stuff than we need, so this would not have really been a challenge, except for the forty day limit. I was trying to load up seven bags of junk every day, while working a full time job, cooking meals, cleaning the house (sorry, that was a lie. I don’t clean the house.) and doing everyone’s laundry. This ended three days and about twenty bags later with me sitting in the middle of the floor crying surrounded by bags of unloved stuffed animals and kitchen gadgets I didn’t know how to use. It was a dark moment.
This year (this morning in the shower) while having my panicked moment, I wondered if God wanted me to be a little less extreme. Maybe the thing God wanted me to do this year was to get off the roller coaster. I thought about this and thought that it might be a very good idea. It was simple, it was very doable. And then my brain took charge of it.
“I’m going to be totally non extreme.” I thought to myself. I actually said it to myself, but let’s assume I’m not totally crazy for a moment. “I am going to be super normal. I’m going to fly under the radar with everything I do. Nothing will stand out. I will be totally plain. Plain. I KNOW! I COULD GO AMISH!!! I could dress in dark clothes and make everything we eat from scratch! I will unplug all electronic devices in our house and force everyone to function by candle light! Maybe I could even borrow a horse and buggy…”
Yes, I know that the Amish buy convenience food from the stores, but I was going to be even more Amish than the Amish. It was going to be awesome. Except it wouldn’t be awesome. Just about the time that I ran out of hot water (the only sign that the shower is done, in my opinion) I started laughing. I was laughing because
- My family would so never get on board with this, and
- My efforts to be less extreme had become… a little bit extreme.
Here is the thing. I am extreme. Some people are not at all ever extreme. Most people are somewhere in between. It is what makes the world interesting. God wants nothing more than for you to be your weird little self. It’s why He made you that way. He wants the world to be a wonderful, interesting place for us all to be, and your uniqueness is a huge part of that.
If you love Him, feed His sheep (Sheep means people. Like feed the poor. Or teach others who are hungry for knowledge about Him. Please don’t go out and buy a bunch of sheep. It’s not what that verse is about. Don’t ask me how I know. I’m not ready to talk about that). If you want to be in His presence, gather with some people. If you want to remember Him, commune together.
Commune. Eat. Wait! I know! For the entire Lenten season I could cook amazing dinners for everyone I know! Who’s in? We could eat dinner, and then I could kick butt at some games! They could be huge fancy five course meals with a huge dessert table…